Harold Bubil: Electric bill is just $8


Over the years, I have often written about houses that are built to an exceptional standard of green design.

These standards include LEED for Homes, Florida Green Building Coalition, and the Department of Energy’s Deep Energy Retrofit program.

In the stories, each contractor predicts how well the house will perform based on its score on the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) scale or its HERS (Home Energy Rating System) number.

Then it becomes a private residence and no one sees the electric bill except the owner.

Not this week.

A few days ago, I stopped by Erika Brigham’s house to interview her for a story about flood insurance. While I was there, I remembered that the house, a 1,000-square-foot Laurel Park cottage built in the 1920s, was one of the first in Florida to be rebuilt under the Deep Energy Retrofit protocols. So I had to ask about her electric bill.

“Eight dollars,” she said.

The woman pays $8 a month for electricity.

But it gets better.

“At year end, they add up what I owe them and what they owe me,” said Brigham, referring to Florida Power & Light. “Last year, it was $7 I owed. Because everything is so efficient, I have very low utility bills.”

With a small, 2.1-kilowatt array of laminated photovoltaic panels on the metal roof, Brigham generates plenty of power. If she makes more than she uses, the system sends the excess into the power grid, which FPL has to buy from her. It’s called net metering.

“I am very glad I did it,” said Brigham. “I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to do that much, but when it became clear that I had to raise the house, and I saw how bad the termite damage was, it became a gut job. Most of the studs were replaced and all of the rafters were bad.

“I do have hurricane tie-downs everywhere. If there is a storm, the house should do very well.”

The total cost was of her retrofit, which included raising the house above base flood elevation, was $200,000.

“A lot of it was choices I made that I did not have to do,” she said of the total cost.

“But I did want to do the right thing for the house, and I probably won’t have to do anything else except paint it.”


Regarding last Sunday’s feature story on College Hall, the former Charles Ringling mansion at New College, I received this letter from former NC president Mike Michalson.

“Lovely piece on the Charles Ringling mansion in today’s paper. I’ve always thought the building was under-appreciated.

“Did you ever hear about the memorial service in the Ringling’s Music Room in the late ’80s for Christianne Felsman, a generous supporter who underwrote one of the art buildings on the Caples Campus?

“As her son, Gregory — a New College alum (and our only Rhodes Scholar) — stood to eulogize his mother, the long-dormant and non-functioning organ suddenly played a loud chord all by itself. Those present tell me that the hair stood up on the back of everyone’s neck.”

“When I moved out of my office in Hester Ringling Sanford’s bedroom at the end of my first administrative stint in 1997, I was fortunate to be sent down to the living room in the Ralph Caples Mansion. Happily, I’m back there now — probably the only professor in the state system with a 510-square-foot office with huge ceilings. I often envision John and Mable sitting in the same room with Ralph and his wife and realizing they wanted to live next door.

“We have some hard decisions to make about repairing and refurbishing Caples, since most faculty who used to have offices there are now in the new ACE building near the library. Still, Caples is probably a great candidate for some kind of public-private partnership.”

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: January 18, 2014
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